Whitman v. American Trucking Associations Case Brief

Facts of the case

Section 109(a) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to promulgate national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for each air pollutant for which air quality criteriahave been issued under section 108. In 1997, Carol Browner, the Administrator of the EPA, revised the ozone and particulate matter NAAQS. Afterwards, her revised NAAQS were challenged in court. The District of Columbia Circuit found that section 109(b)(1), which instructs the EPA to set standards, delegated legislative power to the Administrator in contravention of the Federal Constitution because the court found that the EPA had interpreted the statute to provide no intelligible principleto guide the agency’s exercise of authority. The court remanded the NAAQS to the EPA. The courts also held to its rule that the EPA could not consider implementation costs in setting the NAAQS. Additionally, the court rejected the EPA’s position that the implementation provisions for ozone found in Part D, Subpart 2, of Title I of the CAA, were so tied to the existing ozone standard that the EPA lacked the power to revise the standard.

Why is the case important?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised ozone air quality standards.


Whether Section:109(b)(1) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) delegates legislative power to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


No. The Supreme Court of the United States first took into consideration the approach that the Constitution required. Based on Art. I of the Constitution, Congress has “all legislative powers,” but the Constitution does not permit “delegation of those powers.” Under previous decisions, therefore, “when Congress confers decision-making authority upon agencies Congress must ‘lay down by legislative act an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized to [act] is directed to conform.’” Strictly interpreting the language of Section: 109(b)(1), the Supreme Court read the statute as “requiring the EPA to set air quality standards at the level that is “requisite”–that is, not lower or higher than is necessary–to protect the public health with an adequate margin of safety,” and so concluded that the scope provided by Congress for the EPA was “well within the outer limits of our non-delegation precedents.” Concurrence. Justice Thomas concurred agreed with the Court, but nonetheless expressed his concern that the “intelligible principle” doctrine serves to prevent all cessions of legislative power,” and “that there are cases in which the principle is intelligible and yet the significance of the delegated decision is simply too great for the decision to be called anything other than ‘legislative.’”


Did Section:109(b)(1) of the Clean Air Act unconstitutionally delegate legislative power to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency?

  • Advocates: Judith L. French Columbus, Ohio, argued the case for the respondents Edward W. Warren Argued the cause for the respondents, on behalf of the Respondents Seth P. Waxman on behalf of the Petitioners, on behalf of the Respondent
  • Petitioner: Whitman
  • Respondent: American Trucking Associations, Inc.
  • DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
  • Location: Environmental Protection Agency
Citation: 531 US 457 (2001)
Argued: Nov 7, 2000
Decided: Feb 27, 2001
Whitman v. American Trucking Associations Case Brief